TTC Mobile: Innovative social marketing in emerging economies

Irmgard Jansen
By on September 16, 2015

TTC Mobile (formerly known as Text to Change) runs social marketing campaigns and collects data using mobile technology in emerging markets. Recently TTC Mobile has registered as a member of the Inclusive Business Accelerator. We had an interview with their business developer Arjen Swank.

Arjen SwankWhen and how was TTC Mobile established?

“TTC Mobile started in 2007 as Text to Change with interactive social marketing campaigns in Uganda. Our founders, Bas Hoefman and Hajo van Beijma wanted to make ‘attractive’ HIV campaigns and get a better reach. The mobile telephone penetration rate was growing significantly and the simple text messages were being used more and more, also in Africa.

The first mobile HIV campaign started soon after and was mainly financed by the pharmaceutical firm Merck The target for this first campaign was to reach 5,000 people. Instead we succeeded in reaching and interacting with 15,000 people! It turned out to be much cheaper than a billboard campaign and, more importantly, we were able to interact intensively with the target group through a quiz.

After the campaign we presented a valuable report on the number of people that were reached, to what extent the messages had been understood and if the messages were likely to cause behavioral change. By then we knew we had a great value proposition for governments, NGOs and civil society organizations and also for corporates that wished to combine social messaging and marketing.

In the first few years we mainly focused on healthcare and addressed issues such as malaria prevention and tuberculosis. We also started in a larger number of countries, mainly as a subcontractor of NGOs.”

Are you focusing on particular countries and sectors?

“Our vision is that we should keep our services offering clear and simple, so we can easily replicate and scale to other countries and sectors. For example, we have never considered to step into any mobile money system because that would have made our operations much too complicated and therefore more difficult to scale. Besides, we only have offices in a few countries such as Uganda, Bolivia, The Netherlands and Jakarta. Most campaigns are being developed in Amsterdam.

We focus on Base of the Pyramid target groups as well as on the growing middle classes. Together with content partners we develop the campaigns from A to Z. We are now working in health, agri and food, water and education. Instead of just using simple text messaging we are also using basic web based services for people with smart phones and interaction with the target groups is becoming more sophisticated. As a result we can provide even better information to the organizations and companies we work for, for example about food and nutrition habits and the impact of newly introduced products and services.”

What kind of businesses are you working for?

“To a growing extent the customers include large European or American corporates that want to do business in emerging markets. A combination between radio broadcasting and mobile campaigns works extremely well for them. Oftentimes a radio commercial ends with: “Would you like to know more about our product? Please send a text message ‘food’ to 1234.” In such campaigns we reach millions of people and combine it with personalized interaction. Because we engage the target groups through games, quizzes and surveys, people are generally very willing to participate.

In some campaigns we give incentives for example by providing participants with mobile credits. The mobile operators are also interested in our campaigns because the campaigns and value added services generate traffic and some information is also valuable for the operators. The interaction can continue over a long period in time and our clients can thus track changes in knowledge level or behavior.

Can you give examples?

“An excellent example is the campaign we did for Unilever. The objective was to educate people about hygiene in general and the importance of handwashing and the use of soap. Throughout the campaign we never mentioned Unilever, nor one of their brands. Nevertheless Unilever reported a significant increase of hand soap sales.

Another great success is our campaign to counsel pregnant women in Tanzania throughout their pregnancy and 6 months after birth giving. We provide them with information about food, vaccinations and other health issues and personalize all messages. Within a month after the start of the campaign, already 100,000 women were included. By the end of this year we will have ongoing interaction with 1 million women.

This model can also be used for corporates who want to mix messages about health and nutrition with commercial objectives. Companies like Nestle, Danone and Unilever are extremely interested. For small and medium sized enterprises these campaigns would only be feasible if they would team up with partners in the chain, for example as sourcing companies or retailers.”

What do you hope to get out of your Inclusive Business Accelerator membership?

“Well, the TTC Mobile campaigns would be too expensive for start-up and small enterprises. We need a reasonable volume, so probably partnerships would be necessary. Our services would become interesting once enterprises and NGOs would cooperate to develop new markets.

Small enterprises generally lack the human resources to deal with the interactions and reactions mobile campaigns generate. If you reach 50,000 people through a campaign and you have a conversion rate of 2% then you need to be ready to answer the questions of 1,000 people. That’s quite something. A mobile campaign is not the holy grail for every enterprise. I hope that the platform will engage many serious investors. That would be a real value for us and in particular for the enterprises we would like to work with.

I have recently registered TTC Mobile as a venture on the IBA platform, and myself as mentor. Other members can approach me for questions related to business development and mobile engagement in emerging markets. Interested members can also check out my LinkedIn profile.”
Visit the TTC Mobile venture profile page.